What Are The Blue Angels And Do They Fight In Combat?

four blue angels in flight

What are the Blue Angels?
According to the Blue Angel’s website, in 1946, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Chester Nimitz, had a vision to create a flight exhibition team in order to raise the public's interest in naval aviation and boost Navy morale.

The name, the Blue Angels, was picked by the original team when they were planning a show in New York in 1946. One of them came across the name of the city’s famous Blue Angel nightclub in the New Yorker Magazine. Their first show was at Craig Field in Jacksonville, Florida, June 15, 1946.

What are the Blue Angels and what do they do?
The Blue Angels is the U.S. Navy’s premier flight demonstration team. The mission of the United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron is to showcase the teamwork and professionalism of the United States Navy and Marine Corps by inspiring a culture of excellence and service to country through flight demonstrations and community outreach.

Each year, an estimated 11 million spectators view the squadron during air shows. Additionally, the Blue Angels visit more than 50,000 people a show season (March through November) during school and hospital visits. To date, there have been more than 260 demonstration pilots and 37 flight leaders/commanding officers.

Airmen kneeling behind Blue Angels jets

What are the Blue Angels and what does it take to become one?
The Blue Angels serve as a recruitment tool by showcasing excellence. They not only entice young people to pursue aviation, but they are a recruiting tool to encourage young people into military service.

To become a Blue Angel, Navy and Marine Corps pilots meeting the basic requirements submit an application directly to the team. Applicants visit the squadron at scheduled show sites early in the show season to observe the team firsthand. Finalists are selected mid-season and interviewed at the Blue Angels’ squadron in Pensacola, Florida. The new demonstration pilots and support officers are selected by unanimous vote. The chief of naval air training selects the flight leader/commanding officer.

Officers on the team generally serve two to three years, while the enlisted personnel serve three to four years. Each member, both officers and enlisted, return to the fleet after completing a tour with the Blue Angels. Enlisted personnel also endure a robust application and selection process to join the team.

What are the Blue Angels and do they fight in combat?
The Blue Angels are an operational Navy squadron, but they do not fight in combat. While some on their team have combat experience, the Blue Angels as a squadron with 11 aircraft, does not deploy and fight.

During the Korean War, the Blue Angels did briefly disband and the team was sent to another squadron to support the war, but that has not happened since the Korean War. It’s also important to note that combat flight experience is not a prerequisite to join the team as a pilot. While some pilots have attended the Navy’s famed TOPGUN school, it is not a requirement.

However, in time of crisis, the Blue Angel F/A-18s can be combat ready and returned to a ship in 72 hours. To perform, the aircraft have the nose cannon removed, a smoke-oil tank installed and a spring installed on the stick which applies pressure for better formation and inverted flying. Otherwise, the aircraft that the squadron flies are the same as those in the fleet. All of the Blue Angels’ jets are carrier-capable. The squadron’s C-130 "Fat Albert" is manned by an all-Marine Corps crew and was not designed for carrier operations.

Blue angel’s C-130 Fat Albert cargo plane

What are the Blue Angels and do they have backup pilots?
The Blue Angels perform for nine months out of the year as goodwill ambassadors of the U.S. Navy. One of the common misconceptions about the Blue Angels is that they have backup pilots. They do not.

If a Blue Angel pilot gets ill or hurt, the show is cancelled because there are no backup pilots. With the number of practice hours required to safely fly a demonstration, a spare pilot could not be utilized effectively. Each pilot must complete 120 training flights during winter training in order to perform a public demonstration safely. The teamwork required for the high-speed, low-altitude flying in the tight Blue Angel formation takes hundreds of hours to develop. A substitute pilot would not have enough time in the formation to do this safely.

The closest the Blue Angels fly together is in the diamond where they are within 18 inches of each other during the Diamond 360 maneuver. Blue Angel pilots fly up to 15,000 feet in their demonstrations and the lowest is the Sneak Pass, as low as 50 feet, performed by the lead solo. The fastest speed is about 700 mph (just under Mach 1; Sneak Pass) and the slowest speed is about 120 mph, both flown by the solo pilots during the show. The F/A-18 can reach speeds just under Mach 2, almost twice the speed of sound or about 1,400 mph. The maximum rate of climb of the F/A-18 is 30,000 feet per minute.

Blue angels F6 Hellcat in 1950

What are the Blue Angels and what aircraft have they flown?
The Blue Angels showcase military professionalism and pride and in the 1940s, the Blue Angels flew the F6 Hellcat, the F8 Bearcat and the F9 Panther. During the 1950s, the Blue Angels switched to the F9 Cougar and F-11 Tiger and introduced the first six-plane delta formation, still flown to this day.

By the end of the 1960s, The Blue Angels were flying the F-4 Phantom, the only two seat aircraft flown by the delta formation. In 1974, the Blue Angels transitioned to the A-4 Skyhawk, a smaller and lighter aircraft with a tighter turning radius allowing for a more dynamic flight demonstration.

In 1986, the Blue Angels celebrated their 40th Anniversary by unveiling the F/A-18 Hornet. In 2021, they transitioned to their current aircraft the F/A-18 Super Hornet and celebrated their 75th anniversary. The basic acquisition price of a single F/A-18 Super Hornet is approximately $67.4 million.

Additionally, in 1970 the Blue Angels integrated a Marine Corps C-130 Hercules aircraft, affectionately known as “Fat Albert,” as the opener of the flight demonstration. The C-130 is a tactical transport aircraft.

What are the Blue Angels and how come they don’t wear G-suits?
If you’ve ever watched a Blue Angels show you will notice that the pilots march out to their aircraft and jump into their cockpits, sans G-suits.

G-suits are designed with air bladders (pockets) that inflate and deflate to keep a pilot's blood from pooling in the pilots’ legs while executing sharp, unpredicted combat maneuvers. Unlike combat flying, the Blue Angels demonstration pilots know the maneuvers they will fly prior to execution, so each pilot knows when one will be experiencing heavy gravitational forces. Anticipating the changes in gravitational forces allows the Blue Angels demonstration pilots to combat G-forces with muscle contractions. Additionally, G-suits would detrimentally impact flight safety.

The F/A-18’s control stick is mounted between the pilot’s legs. The Blue Angels have a spring tensioned with 40 pounds of pressure installed on the control stick that gives the pilot a “false feel.” This allows the pilot minimal room for un-commanded movement. The pilots rest their right arms on their thighs for support and stability while flying. Therefore, inflating and deflating air bladders in a G-suit would interrupt this support and stability, causing un-commanded aircraft movement.

Blue angel jet on the ground surrounded by people

What are the Blue Angels in summary
The Blue Angels are a team devoted to professionalism and excellence. They showcase these characteristics by performing their precision aerobatic feats and by maintaining impeccable standards in all they do including flying, maintenance, operations, and military bearing.

What are the Blue Angels to the American public? They are representatives of how great we can be if we exert ourselves towards excellence.

1 comment

Are you by any chance coming over to the Sacramento, Ca. area of the old McClellan AFB Base or 30 miles away, Mather AFB in the next few months. Or, maybe this Fall of 2022? I;m 80+ year old and retired at Mather AFB in Jan. 1980. My wife of 60 years together sure misses the flying over our home.. I miss it from the Vietnam and Mather AFB flying over the base and our home. We used to watch the Air Force Thunderbirds at Las Vegas, Nv where we also lived for 20 years near Nellis AFB, Nv home of the Thunderbirds. Good luck and keep up the good works of the show for us. God Bless you all. In JESUS Name. Amen.. Fly High!! USAF/Retired/Vietanm Veteran

Asbury Steen,

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